As retail continues to reopen and consumers return to brick-and-mortar stores, “Rick and Morty” will be waiting for them. The Adult Swim animated series, which returns for Season 5 on June 20, has not only been a ratings juggernaut — it has turned into a merchandising machine.
“Rick and Morty” now boasts more than 150 global licensees — spanning fashion, accessories, home, toys and games — that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Airing in more than 110 countries and dubbed in 26 languages, the show was basic cable’s No. 1 comedy in 2019 and has won two Emmys for animated program, in 2018 and 2020.
“That is surreal to see all the merch,” says co-creator Justin Roiland. “That was my lifelong dream. I was like, if I can create a franchise that gets toys made, I could hang my hat up and walk off into the sunset, having accomplished my ultimate fantasy. And it happened.”
For co-creator Dan Harmon, “Rick & Morty” originated as something he started developing when he had initially been let go as showrunner of “Community” (a comedy he eventually returned to). “Back then it was sort of imperative to have what I called an exit strategy, so that’s all ‘Rick and Morty’ needed to be, was just a place to go,” he says. “So when it became arguably more successful than my broadcast sitcom, that was a totally unnecessary shock.”
Harmon credits Roiland for keeping a close eye early on in growing the show’s merchandising imprint. “At the beginning stages, even when Adult Swim was saying, ‘We do these things at a certain pace,’ Justin brought an obsessiveness about merchandising and franchising to the table that we really benefited from, and he continued to be really hands-on.”
Harmon is also pleased with how Adult Swim has handled the show’s explosive popularity, which particularly took off in 2017, when characters like Pickle Rick and a joke about finding McDonald’s obscure “Szechuan sauce” suddenly dominated pop culture. “The ways that they promote things and think about marketing ‘Rick and Morty,’ even in its success, are kind of miraculous,” Harmon says.
Now the empire is too big for even Roiland to stay on top of, and he admits he’d love to be more involved than he is in the moment. Next up, he is excited to unveil a real, functional Butter Robot, which boasts sophisticated artificial intelligence just like Rick’s butter-dispensing creation on the series. “When it comes out, oh boy, it’s going to be one of the coolest things that we’ve ever made,” he says.